In today's post 9/11 America, there are 15,000 informants working with the FBI. That's nearly three times as many as there were 25 years ago.
Over the years, when there has been a surge in the number of informants the FBI recruits and uses, there's a specific target in the FBI's sights — first organized crime, then drug smuggling, and now counterterrorism.
And while the FBI uses many informants the traditional way — pointing the finger at wrongdoers — a new review of post-9/11 prosecutions reveals the increasing presence of informants in terrorism investigations.
"The informants play larger roles where they acted almost as agent provocateurs, where they provided not only the opportunity for the person to commit this act of terror, but also the means," Mother Jones contributor Trevor Aaronson tells NPR's Laura Sullivan. "Providing them with the plan, with the so-called weapons that were needed to ultimately create the act of terror that these people are them prosecuted for," Aaronson says.
Mother Jones partnered with the University of California-Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program where Trevor Aaronson is an investigative fellow. Aaronson writes about the FBI's informant boom in the current issue of the magazine.